248. Editorial Note

In a memorandum to Assistant Secretary Mann, March 6, 1964, Ralph W. Richardson, the officer-in-charge of Chilean affairs, assessed the significance of the upcoming congressional by-election in Curicó. Although the seat itself was not important, Richardson explained that the by-election would “serve to measure the relative strengths of the political parties,” possibly determining “future realignments prior to the Presidential election.” He pointed out that Julio Durán Neumann, the Democratic Front (DF) presidential candidate, had already declared the by-election a national “plebiscite,” confident that the DF parties would repeat their share of the municipal elections in April 1963, when they received a combined 49% of the vote. The Popular Action Front (FRAP), however, also enjoyed a “special advantage” at Curicó: “its candidate is the son of the late Socialist Deputy.” As for the presidential election, Richardson concluded that “the time is rapidly approaching when we should come to some basic decisions, whatever the outcome of the Curicó election. I think we need to weigh not only the probabilities of victory by the DF and the PDC, but also such issues as whether it is in the US interest to try to keep Durán and the Democratic Front in the race, even if we were to decide to do what we can to favor Frei’s chances of winning.” (Washington National Records Center, RG 84, Santiago Embassy Files: FRC 69 A 6507, 1964, POL 14 Elections (Presidential) 1964 (1))

On March 15 the FRAP candidate won the Curicó by-election with 39.5 percent of the vote; the next day, Durán resigned as the DF presidential candidate. McGeorge Bundy asked Ralph Dungan to comment on these events at a White House staff meeting, March 18: “Dungan said he was not really upset about the by-elections in Chile in which the communists gained, nor, he said, is the ambassador. There is a three to one chance that everything will turn out all right. Bundy reminded him that with those odds, we could lose five countries in Latin America.” (Memorandum for the record by W.Y. Smith, March 18; National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Chairman’s Staff Group) On March 25 Assistant Secretary Mann also discussed the political fallout from Curicó at a meeting with Central Intelligence Agency officials, including Desmond FitzGerald, J.C. King, and Cord Meyer. According to a record of the meeting: “FitzGerald said the most important thing is to keep people from panicking as a result of Curico. King proposed we give additional support [less than 1 line of source text not declassified], but through channels other than those now being used. [1 line of source text not declassified] He said the Agency is thinking in terms of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. Cord Meyer said this would of course have to go to the Special Group. King agreed.” Mann wondered whether “a leftist Radical candidate in the race wouldn’t help keep [Page 552] leftist Radicals from drifting to Allende.” The participants agreed that “the matter will be pursued after Mann has talked with Cole.” (Memorandum from Carter to Hughes, March 26; Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, ARACIA Weekly Meetings, 1964–1965)

Richardson later commented on the impact Curicó had on the decision-making process: “While I agree that we certainly do have a situation to worry about, I still cannot repress a feeling of satisfaction in seeing how quickly and cleanly our ‘decision’ to swing behind Frei was made for us. I really had wondered before Durán’s disaster whether we were going to get any definite decision from the front office on which group we should help.” (Letter to Jova, April 3; Washington National Records Center, RG 84, Santiago Embassy Files: FRC 69 A 6507, 1964, POL 14 Elections (Presidential) 1964 (1))